The Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 is a manual-focus lens with no autofocus facility. It’s beautifully styled, immaculately engineered with a metal barrel, and feels very robust. Although it’s only slightly bigger than the competing Canon 35mm f/2 lens, it’s more than twice the weight at 702g. Similar to other competitors like the Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD and Canon’s up-market 35mm f/1.4, it features weather-seals that include a rubber gasket around the mounting plate.
Zone focusing is made simple thanks to a long-travel, silky-smooth focus ring that comes complete with a distance scale and depth of field markings for f/4, f/8, f/16 and f/22. Even so, without microprism or split-screen focusing aids in DSLRs, accurate manual focusing can be tricky. The Milvus has built-in electronics to light up the focus confirmation lamp in the camera’s viewfinder. Full aperture control is also available from the camera body.
The front element and 58mm filter attachment thread don’t rotate during focusing, so there are no problems when using filters like circular polarisers and ND grads.
Overall sharpness is pretty acceptable, as opposed to amazing. In our lab tests, the Zeiss lost out slightly to the much less expensive Canon 35mm f/2 lens at most apertures, right across the image frame. Contrast and colour quality are excellent in lab and real world tests. Unfortunately it just about lags behind some competitors for control over colour fringing and barrel distortion.
There is a lot to like here – Zeiss’s acclaimed T* coatings are used to minimise ghosting, and the extent to which the outer barrel rotates provides real manual focusing comfort. It’s a high-quality lens, there’s no doubt about that, but you could be forgiven for expecting it to be a little further ahead of its rivals than it is.